Weekend Avalanche Buries A Man

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A man is buried up to his elbow during a weekend avalanche in the Swan Range.

Around noon on Saturday, December 14, a 34-year-old man who wants to remain anonymous, was out in the Swan Range with a buddy.

After going down a slope in Noisy Basin, just above Camp Misery, he accidentally triggered an avalanche on his way back up while his partner was waiting in a safe spot.

When he was talking with the Flathead Avalanche Center, he did admit that he had "let [his] guard down" believing it was safe once, and would be safe for more runs.

The snow slide carried him down about 200 feet and buried all of him but his arm. Incredibly, he was able to lift himself up and out without serious injury.

All of this without a single new snowflake.

"That's what a lot of people think. 'well, we haven't had snow fall in a couple of days, it's getting warmer, that's good, right?' Well actually, not necessarily. Wind plays a huge role in avalanche formation and development," said Erich Peitzsch, the interim director of the Flathead Avalanche Center.

Wind apparently caused old snow to fall in a new place.

"Our staff went up and investigated yesterday and they found that it was what's called a wind slab, so snow that's been transported from one side to another, causing a load," explained Peitzsch.

Even with almost balmy temperatures, the risk is still very real.

"The hazard at least for today is probably similar again due to the wind. It may decrease... Over the next couple of days, but then again it looks like we're about to get another storm perhaps on Wednesday or Thursday," predicted Peitzsch.

If you want to know how to avoid a story like this, think about trying out one of the free introductory avalanche courses offered at the Flathead National Forest office in Kalispell. The first class is at six on December 18, and again on December 19 with field training at Whitefish Mountain Resort on December 21. All in all, you are looking at about twelve hours of safety training.

If you can not make those, the same course will be offered again starting January 22.

Registration is not required, but is preferred. Contact Seth Carbonari at 406.387.3832 or scarbonari@fs.fed.us for additional information or to pre-register.

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